The Human Milk Foundation
HMF are passionate about saving the very youngest, most vulnerable babies (those born substantially pre-term), by ensuring that they get the best start in life – human milk, with all its special nutrients and vital antibodies, donated by women. Donated milk is processed and then transferred to hubs around the country so that it can reach those who need it most. The brilliant people at HMF contacted us to see if we would help them establish a Milk Wood (a Dylan Thomas reference): to celebrate the contribution of their donors and supporters and to allow grieving mothers to find peace and wellbeing in nature. The connection? Our own Stuart Davies put it perfectly, when he asked: what sort of world are these precious children going to grow up in? We discussed how we might help with finding suitable land for the creation of a wood, preferably close to one of their hubs, and the obvious question arose, whether HMF would like to start by establishing a tree nursery – a perfect and very creative idea. Each wood or tree nursery would act as a focus for raising awareness and funds for the next phase of HMF’s vital work.
New HMF hubs are to be established in Norfolk, Newcastle upon Tyne, Kent, Brighton and Swansea; so we are actively looking for land in those areas to help them realise their ambitions.
For more information on the HMF, check out their website: humanmilkfoundation.org
The Defence Gardens Scheme
I was alerted to the terrific work of this relatively new initiative because its founder, Sally Coulthard, is a Winston Churchill Memorial Fund Fellow (CF, for short) – like me. She has studied and become convinced by the value of nature-based therapy in helping Armed Forces Leavers suffering mental health issues. I got in touch with Sally to suggest that we might share common ground and to ask if there was a chance that we might collaborate on a ‘Defence Woodlands Scheme’. Sally – herself a former serving officer – responded and we had a highly inspiring and rewarding conversation – online, of course.
The Defence Gardens provide a safe, secure, nurturing and stimulating environment in which to work. DGS now have three gardens in the scheme, which runs for ten weeks, three times a year, each time for eight people. A ‘Defence Woodlands Scheme’ would be a terrific addition to their portfolio and to ours, offering wonderful opportunities for both formal and informal nature-based therapies.
Sally put me in touch with her close collaborator Alan Kellas, a former NHS psychiatrist who was the Green Care lead for the Royal College of Psychiatrists, and who promotes the value of Nature-based Therapies. We have corresponded and clearly there is much in common – the time is right, it seems, to see the value of nature not just in terms of ecology and of carbon capture, flood control, climate change or public amenity; but as a core need for humans in a world of uncertain futures and increasing social and cultural pressures. Woods for the Trees are keen to pursue these mutual interests and tap into the zeitgeist.
I am currently writing a book about the history of wood technology and culture, called The Hand that Wields the Axe – and that means thinking about and researching human relationships with trees, their ecologies and the materials and cultural values that come with them. We are a technological species and our natural working material is wood. Wood both gave us the tools to explore and manipulate our environment, and the inspiration to create new technologies. It’s a fascinating subject, and I’m finding it immensely rewarding.
I am struck by the difficulty I have in separating human and natural ecologies, as many agencies are wont to do when placing value on or planning for future woodlands and habitats. I have coined the term Social Ecology to describe communities of people and biomes integrated into each other’s networks; to encapsulate the social and cultural value of nurturing and enhancing ‘natural’ ecosystems and, in turn, being nurtured. That’s why Woods for the Trees, instead of raising money to buy land and plant trees on behalf of individual or organisations, aims to ‘raise people’ to put trees back on the land and manage the resulting woodlands. Those woodlands will be productive, diverse natural and cultural environments, rewarding people many times over for their labour and love.
Social ecologies are vital for human wellbeing, purpose and survival. When woods and trees can connect military veterans, the NHS, premature babies, charcoal burners, educators, learners, birds and bees, the essential, universal connectivity of all organic life is laid bare. We look forward to these serendipities bearing fertile fruit.